ModernGhana logo
16.01.2020 Feature Article

The Biblical Basis Of The Judicial Appeal System In Ghana: Lessons From Moses And Jethro

The Biblical Basis Of The Judicial Appeal System In Ghana: Lessons From Moses And Jethro
Listen to article

It is not disputatious that there are numerous biblical principles and examples that are applicable to our daily lives on earth. It is therefore not surprising that the Bible says God rules in the affairs of men (Daniel 4:17). The judicial appeal system Ghana and perhaps all countries operate mimic what is outlined in the Bible per the examples from Moses in the Book of Genesis. A judicial appeal occurs when the losing party (later called an appellant) in a case in a lower court asks a higher court to reverse the lower court’s decision or judgement in his or her favour. The higher court may uphold the lower court’s judgement or set it aside (quash it) entirely or part of it by issuing the reactive prerogative order called Certiorari. In most cases of appeal, no new evidence is required by the higher court because it is strictly a legal argument.

The Judicial Appeal Advice To Moses By His Father-In-Law

Whereas Exodus 2:18 names Moses’ father-in-law as Reuel, Exodus 3:1 also gives the name of Moses’ father-in-law as Jethro. The essence of this article is not to go into the matter regarding why the Bible names Moses’ father-in-law differently. Rather, the impetus of the article is to relate the court or judicial appeal system within the Ghanaian Judiciary to the advice Jethro or Reuel gave his son-in-law, Moses in the Bible. In the article therefore, Jethro and Reuel are used interchangeably to refer to father-in-law of Moses, the servant of God as he was described in Joshua 1:1-2 and Deuteronomy 34: 5.

As the servant of the Most High God and the foremost leader of the Israelites in those days, Moses was in the usual practice of listening to so many cases of disputes among the Israelites and giving the final judgement in those cases (Exodus 18: 13). If Moses were a court, then it would be said that he had both the original and appellate jurisdictions in determining those cases. He was the Supreme Judge and could be likened to Ghana’s Chief Justice just that Moses did not have other justices on the bench until his father-in-law advised him on the judicial organizational structure. He was judging cases from morning till evening, Bible says. Among the Israelites at the time therefore, Moses was the supreme judge and the supreme judge was Moses, clothed with both original and final jurisdictions.

Surprised by the overwhelming judicial workload, Jethro, the Priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses asked the latter, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as the judge, while these people stand around you from morning till evening? (Exodus 18:15). Moses answered that it was the people themselves who were coming to him to determine their cases.

Alarmed by the workload and having noticed that Moses was not delegating work to anyone managerially and legally he did not establish a judicial appeal system, Reuel (his father-in-law) advised Moses to appoint lower judges within the 12 tribes of Israel. He also advised Moses to empower the lower judges with original jurisdictions to hear and determine cases and refer very difficult cases to him (Moses) only when necessary. Jethro further added that Moses should organize orientations for the tribal judges on the decrees and codes of conduct for judges. The tribal jurisdictions were supervising populations demarcated in 1000s, 100s, 50s and 10s. With this arrangement or biblical jurisprudence, Moses ceased to have original jurisdiction in hearing and determining disputes within the tribes. Only the difficult cases were referred to him for hearing and determination. The judicial workload became lighter for Moses after he adhered to the good jurisprudential counsel given by Jethro/Reuel his father-in-law.

The Hierarchical Structure Of The Judiciary In Ghana

In my view, the judicial system of Ghana developed and evolved in tandem with the biblical judicial trial system Jethro developed for adherence by Moses. In addition to the lower courts, independent Ghana has had superior courts of judicature since 1960. Under the First Republican Constitution, 1960, Ghana had two (2) superior courts of judicature namely the High Court and the Supreme Court. There was no Court of Appeal in the First Republic hence appeals regarding cases tried by the High Courts were made directly at the Supreme Court (e.g. In re Akoto). It was under the Second Republican Constitution, 1969 (Article 102: 4) that the Court of Appeal was first introduced in Ghana. As such, the superior courts of Judicature have been the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court & the Regional Tribunals. This arrangement of three (3) superior courts of Judicature) developed in 1969 within the judiciary of Ghana and has been maintained under the Fourth Republican Constitution, 1992 [Article 126 (1) (a)].

Clearly therefore, the superior courts of judicature and for that matter the judicial appeal system evolved from two (2) layers under the 1960 Constitution to three (3) echelons under the 1969 and the 1992 Constitutions in the Third and Fourth Republics respectively. One may assert that in the First Republic, the Supreme Court was virtually tantamount to Moses because it was getting a lot of appeals directly from the High Court but with the introduction of the Court of Appeal in 1969, the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdictions had reduced comparatively. The 1969 Constitution came in as a Jethro or Reuel to advice that a Court of Appeal should be established to hear some of the appeal cases even before they get to the Supreme Court.

Jurisdictional Exceptions Under the 1992 Constitution

Per the tenets of Ghana’s Fourth Republican Constitution, 1992, even though the Supreme Court is the apex court and for that matter the biblical Moses, it is not constitutionally clothed with original and supervisory jurisdictions in some cases. For example, article 99 of the Constitution does not give the Supreme Court original nor supervisory jurisdictions to hear and determine cases relating to parliamentary electoral disputes. Article 99 (1) of the Constitution gives the High Court the original jurisdiction to hear and determine cases relating to whether or not a person has been validly elected as a Member of Parliament or whether or not a parliamentary seat has become vacant. Per the Constitution therefore, it is only the High Court that has the original jurisdiction to hear and determine parliamentary election disputes.

Again, article 99 (2) of the Constitution has authorized only the Court of Appeal to have both the supervisory and appellate jurisdictions to hear petitions emanating from parliamentary election disputes. As it stands, the Constitution does not give the apex court any jurisdiction to hear and determine matters of this nature. The High Court has the original jurisdiction in this case while the appellate jurisdiction rests with the Court of Appeal. It was however determined by the Supreme Court in The Republic vrs The High Court Judge, Sunyani, Ex parte Alhaji Collins Dauda (CM j5/12/2009 dated 8/4/2009) that for the High Court to have original jurisdiction in a parliamentary election petition case, the electoral results must first be declared by the Electoral Commission. The Collins Dauda case as determined by the SC was purely a case constitutional interpretation upon the strengths of articles 2 and 130 (1) (a) of the Constitution. Similar other decided cases under the 1992 Constitution abound to learn from. Another jurisdictional exception is that a judicial appeal in chieftaincy matters determined by the Judicial Committee of the National House of Chiefs shall be made directly to the Supreme Court (article 130: 4).

Also, in hearing and determining other cases (e.g. high treasonable offences), the Supreme Court has been clothed with both the original and final or appellate jurisdictions, just as Moses had it before Jethro came with his good counsel. Articles 131, 132 and 133 of the Constitution vividly enshrine the judicial appeal process in Ghana.

As stated earlier for example, articles 2 and 130 (1) () of the Constitution, 1992 make the Supreme Court the only court in Ghana that can interpret provisions of the Constitution and give meanings to those provisions. This may be likened to one of the difficult cases that were meant for determination by Moses per Jethro’s insistence.

Another example is that article 64 (1) of the Constitution clothes only the Supreme Court with the jurisdiction to hear and determine cases in the nature of presidential election petitions that are filed after the electoral results were declared. It states, “The validity of the election of the President may be challenged only by a citizen of Ghana who may present a petition for the purpose to the Supreme Court within twenty-one days after the declaration of the result of the election in respect of which the petition is presented.” It is on the basis of this constitutional provision that Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo (now President) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) filed a presidential petition at the Supreme Court to challenge the 2012 presidential election results. They lost the case though.

Just like the judicial appeal system Jethro or Reuel established for Moses to follow in hearing and determining cases, the judicial system of Ghana has been structured with hierarchies with each layer having defined jurisdictions as discussed. It comes to emphasize the reality that there are a lot of good lessons to learn from the Bible. The lower courts, the High Courts & Regional Tribunals, Houses of Chiefs and para-legal institutions in Ghana represent the tribe judges Moses appointed while the Supreme Court itself or the Chief Justice with his team is performing the roles Moses performed as a supreme judge.

~Asante Sana ~
Philip Afeti Korto
Email: [email protected]

ModernGhana Links

Join our Newsletter